Thursday, August 20, 2009

Compassion and Revolution

Walking the dog last night, I witnessed a troubling interaction between a homeless man and a well-dressed neighbor. The man asked for money. My neighbor not only refused, which was certainly his right, but chose to be deliberately rude and confrontational. My neighbor"s angry reaction was puzzling. A week earlier, I was having coffee with a friend who went on a rant against the homeless. My mind has a catastrophic bent, and I can easily imagine various scenarios which would make me homeless. Bad luck, bad choices--- it could easily happen. What is troubling is the anger people openly exhibit to the less fortunate.

Many are troubled by the anger generated at these town hall meetings, where conservatives are ranting against health care reform. Anger at political leaders is understandable: I spent the last eight years fuming at the arrogance and horrible decisions of the previous administration. But consider the anger Jane Fonda still generates. She did some stupid things for which she has apologized numerous times. Why are people angry at Fonda, and not at Macnamara, Nixon, LBJ--- the politicians who instigated a stupid and useless war? The right is adept at channeling anger inappropriately. Consider Reagan"s targeting of "Welfare Queens." We weren't supposed to be angry at poverty, and the conditions that brought it about. We were told to blame the victims. Of course, we all knew someone who knew someone who once met someone who worked at a welfare office, and who came across women who popped out babies so they could get more welfare. The paradox was that these "Welfare Queens," who were always African Americans, and overweight, simultaneously wanted to have more children and get government sponsored abortions. They must have been busy, as well as confused. Or could it be that we were confused?

Blaming the victim is the oldest trick in the book. Whether the victims are immigrants, the homeless, the disabled, Jews, blaming the victim is so much easier than asking "why." In "Prophetic Imagination," Walter Bruegemann writes "Compassion constitutes a radical form of criticism." By feeling compassion, and acting on it, we realize that the pain and suffering of others is real, and we must help. Jeff Dietrich, in the San Diego "Catholic Worker" adds, "When Jesus told us to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, and visit the imprisoned, he knew that such activities would cause us to ask questions of both ourselves and our society." Dietrich adds the clincher, the point where religion and politics merge: "To enter into the hurt is to realize that system is rigged."

Whether the prophet urging us to feel compassion is Moses, Jesus, Mohammed or Karl Marx, we come to realize that we live in a political system that is unfair, where there are many losers, and just a few winners, in the material sense. By acknowledging the suffering around us, we come to terms with our own complicity in a broken world.

In 1892, my great grandfather began a Populist/Socialist newspaper, "The Table Rock Censor." His family worked tirelessly for the campaign of James Weaver, a great liberal. Weaver's Populist party refused to join the Democrats, thinking they were just as corrupt as the Republicans. My great grandfather worked for the revolution, "Armageddon," as he called it, when the capitalist overlords would be displaced. Progressives of the era used religious terminology in their struggle. The revolution, the better world my ancestors fought for might have been called the Messianic Age by religious leaders. Both the religious and the political factions worked for change.

No one today remembers James Weaver, although man of his liberal policies, like the progressive income tax, eventually came about. Weaver was the only third party candidate ever to carry five midwestern states. In other countries, where actual political revolution happened, the results were decidedly mixed.

In his brilliant work, "The Evolution of God," Robert Wright traces the growth of God, or, if you prefer, the growth of the concept of God. Gradually, over the past 250,000 years of human history, God has become more loving, more ethical. If our species is to continue, God must keep changing and growing, as we ourselves grow. Salvation for humans is dependent up the salvation of the planet. We work for the growing good of people, of the planet. We work for change, revolution, the Messianic Age. We believe that the universe is here for a purpose, and that purpose is good. We don't know the end results: we don't know if we will succeed in saving ourselves and our world. God must continue to grow. When we feel compassion, God has a place to be born.

If you volunteer, work for a charity or political cause, or choose to manifest good will for all, you work because you must. The Messianic Age is here, the Revolution has begun. Tag, you're it.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this, Doug. We really all need to be behind the movement to get the U.S. out of the business of war. That includes South America and Afganistan.